Monday, November 28, 2011

Mentor Monday: Who’s Your Audience—In 2011?

A couple of weeks ago I received a very nice cover letter and manuscript from a stay-at-home mom from the Seattle area. She sent a rhymed picture book story about a stuffed animal that, as you might have guessed, was her baby’s favorite toy.

Lots of writers for kids start out like this mom. We get interested in children’s books because we are in the process of parenting young children. Maybe we fall in love with the picture book genre and dream of seeing our name in print. We want to write books that will appeal to our children or will tell a story of something that happened in our child’s life.

I had no opinion one way or the other about the manuscript I’d received. It’s not the sort of book I’m interested in. But, as a publisher, I spend a lot of time thinking about who reads my books, who needs my books, and who buys my books. I have a definite audience in mind for the work I produce.

Do you ever wonder, as a writer for children, what kind of children make up today’s readership? How many are actually like that Seattle mother’s child, being raised by a stay-at-home mom in a middle-to-upper-class home, where books and favorite toys abound? If you haven’t thought about that question, I challenge you to try. Many successful writers have already done so.

Here’s just one type of statistic about today’s young readers. These numbers are from the Federal Interagency on Child and Family Statistics. The “Leave It to Beaver” family still exists, but there are lots of other family variations:

  • In 2010, there were about 75 million children in the United States ages 0–17.
    69% lived with two parents
    23 % lived with only their mothers,
    3% lived with only their fathers,
    4% lived with neither of their parents. (Harry Potter, anyone?)

  • About 5 percent of children who lived with two biological or adoptive parents had parents who were not married. (Brad and Angelina’s kids fit here.)

  • About 70 percent of children in stepparent families lived with their biological mother and stepfather. (Like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson).

  • The majority of children living with one parent lived with their single mother. (Like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.)

  • Among the 3.0 million children 24 percent lived with non-relatives. Of children in non-relatives' homes, 27 percent (200,000) lived with foster parents. (Like Katherine Paterson’s Gilly Hopkins)

I’ve only touched on the one type of statistic describing America’s children, that of the family dynamic. This list doesn’t touch on some of the other factors that might tell us what our readers are like today. Do they live in a house, shelter, or car? Are their parents employed? Do they shop at the mall and grocery store, or Goodwill and the local food bank?

Maybe some of these statistics will inspire you because every one of those children needs their own story to be told.


Andy said...

Kids love seeing themselves in the books they read. Excellent post, Mur.

Diane Mayr said...

Yes, kids like to read about themselves, but keep in mind that each family is different in its own way. For a parent to look for his/her child's unique experience reflected in a book, then they're bound to be disappointed. Parents need to be able to point out similarities in situations even though the stories might not be an exact match. (This comes from a public librarian who gets lots of unfillable bibliotherapy requests--parents don't know how to interpret what they read and make connections to their own kids' lives.) However, I'm not saying we shouldn't get away from the "Leave It to Beaver" family! We definitely need to leave June and Ward behind.

I'm Jet . . . said...

Great topic, Mur, and one I hadn't given much thought to. Time to do just that!